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The end of Jewish history?

Bernard Wasserstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The end of Jewish history?* BERNARD WASSERSTEIN Nearly a decade has passed since Francis Fukuyama announced that we had reached the 'end of history'.1 His message struck a chord with many because it seemed at that time that, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the apparent triumph of economic and political liberal? ism, more than an era had come to an end. History as an epic or meta narrative of struggle between the great contending ideas of communism and capitalism appeared to have reached some kind of resolution. Since the histor? ical train had reached its terminus, its destination indicator was taken down and history was left without a theme, without a purpose and without an end in view. Perhaps all that was now left for the historian was to be a chronicler rather than a grand interpreter of the direction of civilization. For the historian of the Jews, the concept of the end of history has a special resonance for two reasons. First, because of the unique connection between Jewish and universal history for Christians no less than for Jews. For both, the Jews are intimately connected with the beginning and the end of the history of the world. For both, the Jews are present at the revelation that alone gives meaning to history. For both, the Jewish destiny is bound up with eschatological speculations and yearnings. And for both the end of history is understood as the point to which everything tends and as the purpose for which God has placed man on earth. The second reason is that the Jews are almost certainly the most historically conscious of peoples. Isaiah Berlin spoke of the 'retrodictive' impulse of the Jews. This was interpreted recently by one Jewish historian as 'the attempt to scour the past for themes or subjects that form a coherent, linear chain of historical development'.2 The effort is not merely a professional addiction of historians: it forms part of the very essence of the self-understanding of Juda * This presidential address to the Society was delivered in the Gustav Tuck Theatre of Uni? versity College, London, on 2 November 2000. I wish to thank Professors David S. Katz and David J. Wasserstein, both of Tel Aviv University, and Mr Edgar Samuel for their advice in connection with the revision of this lecture for publication. 1 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London 1992). The book grew out of an article published in 1989. 2 David N. Myers, 'Between Diaspora and Zion: History, Memory, and the Jerusalem Scholars', in David N. Myers and David B. Ruderman (eds) The Jewish Past Revisited: Reflections on Modern Jewish Historians (New Haven 1998) 96. I</page><page sequence="2">Bernard Wasserstein ism and of Jewry. Berlin himself put it well in a lecture to this Society thirty years ago: 'All Jews who are at all conscious of their identity as Jews are steeped in history. They have longer memories, they are aware of a longer continuity as a community than any other which has survived.'3 The first scientific histories of the Jews, written in accordance with the critical method and according to the canons of the scholarly analysis of evid? ence, appeared from the early nineteenth century onwards, mainly in Ger? many, but also in France and England. Their authors were both Christians and Jews. Indeed, the close contact between Christian and Jewish scholars and their mutual influence characterized the scholarship of the period. Their common, almost unanimous conviction was that Jewish history, if parsed aright, could reveal truths of significance for humanity as a whole. For both, it was to be understood as a form of Heilsgeschichte, 'salvation history'. The end of Jewish history was a matter of some speculation for nineteenth century Christian historians, interested both in its purpose and in its time? table. Some regarded Jewish history as having come to an end in the past, at the time of the destruction of Jewish political power and the Jews' rejection of Christianity. Others viewed Jewish history as dwindling to a conclusion in the present era, regarding everything in Jewish history since the foundation of Christianity as a kind of marginally relevant coda - or Sp?tgeschichte. (This tendency has still not died out among certain Christian - mainly German - scholars.) And others again looked forward to the end of Jewish history in a millennial future, linking it to the Second Coming of the Saviour. Among the most influential Jewish histories of the nineteenth century was the multi-volume History of Israel published between 1843 ana&lt; 1859 by the German Protestant theologian and historian Heinrich Ewald. The final sec? tion of this work is entitled 'the end of the entire History of Israel'. Ewald's study comes to a halt with the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt and the spread of early Christianity. These mark, according to Ewald, the 'true end' of the Jews. 'The history of Israel', he writes, 'had a predisposition and, as it were, a predestination to this its last issue from its very first commencement onwards.' Jewish history, according to Ewald, finds its necessary consumma? tion in 'the destruction of national hindrances' and its transformation 'into a much loftier continuation of itself - i.e. the Church. What Ewald calls the 'aftergrowths' of Judaism, that is, Jewish history over the past eighteen hundred years, had what he concedes to be 'their conditional advantage'. For example, he suggests, it was useful for Judaism to survive in the early Christian era as 'the writings of the Old Testament . . . otherwise might easily have been lost'. Even the Talmud, he considers, was 'in many 3 Isaiah Berlin, 'Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx and the Search for Identity', in Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (London 1979) 252. 2</page><page sequence="3">The end of Jewish history? respects excusable' in order that 'much which was not rightly and completely understood by the Christianity of these early times should be more fully handed down'. Moreover, 'Rabbinic Judaism had a right to exist as a protest against Islam, although at first it foolishly enough made overtures to it; it has still a right as a protest against all false Christianity. And just as nothing is without its use, the existence of this Judaism may and ought to remind us at the present day that our modern Christianity is very far from being what it ought to be, either in theory or in actual life; for it is from its errors and imperfections alone that modern Judaism derives most of the strength by which it lives.' For Ewald Christianity is 'not merely the only logical, but also the only saving issue of this whole history, without which it would end in dreary night'.4 Unlike Ewald, Henry Hart Milman, a Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, carried his narrative forward to modern times in his History of the Jews, published in its final form in 1863. Milman's work evoked great interest and controversy in its day and aroused debate that went to the heart of some of the great religious issues that rent Victorian England. John Henry Newman greatly disapproved of it - for reasons which, unfortunately, I have no time to enter into today. The last of its three volumes covered the post-biblical period, culminating in a discussion of emancipation in Austria, France and Britain. There is less overt Christian triumphalism here than in Ewald. But Milman concludes: 'History, which is the record of the Past, has now discharged its office; it presumes not to raise the mysterious veil which the Almighty has spread over the Future .... This, however, we may venture to assert, that true religion will advance with the dissemination of knowledge. I cannot but think that the doom of the Talmud, with that of much of our mediaeval legend is pronounced. The more enlightened the Jew becomes, the less cred? ible will it appear that the Universal Father intended an exclusive religion, confined to one family among the race of man, to be permanent; the more evident that the faith which embraces the whole human race within the sphere of its benevolence, is alone adapted to a more advanced and civilized age.'5 This is not quite Milman's last word. He provides a supplementary chapter surveying the influence of Jews on philosophy, poetry and history. Milman seems to regard the abandonment of the Hebrew language as almost more significant a form of cultural assimilation than religious conversion: 'I may sum up in one word - to be poets, in Europe and in our days, the Jews must cease to be Jews; whether retaining their creed or not, they must abandon their language.' If they cannot, like Heine, become Christians, Milman sug 4 Heinrich Ewald, The History of Israel, vol. 8 (London 1886) 304-10. 5 Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews from the Earliest Period down to Modern Times, vol. 3 (3rd ed., London 1863) 424. 3</page><page sequence="4">Bernard Wasserstein gests, they must 'at all events fully and entirely Europeanize themselves'. At least there are, in his eyes, Jewish poets - or poets of Jewish origin. 'Of History, in its highest sense, Jewish literature', he writes, 'is absolutely barren.' Milman's conclusion is uncompromising: 'As in poetry, so it would seem in history, a man must cease to be a Jew to take a place in the goodly catalogue of the annalists of the world'.6 For all their scholarly professionalism, neither of these historians, it seems, could shake off Christian supersessionism as the conceptual framework for their histories of the Jews. This, indeed, was true in general of nineteenth century Christian historians of the Jews. It affected not only their attitude towards Judaism as a religion, but also towards the purpose of Jewish eman? cipation. Thus the great Semitic scholar Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), in his article on 'Israel', written for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and reprinted as an appendix to the second English edition of his History of Israel (1883), concluded with the words: 'the so-called emancipation of the Jews must inev? itably lead to the extinction of Judaism wherever the process is extended beyond the political to the social sphere' - though he granted that 'For the accomplishment of this, centuries may be required'.7 If the first scientific Christian historians of the Jews regarded the end of Jewish history as accomplished, in process or foretold, those Jewish historians of the Jews who were their contemporaries were not much more confident of Jewish survival. The pioneers in Germany of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, indeed, saw their endeavours precisely as a kind of intellectual finger in the dyke, holding back forces that threatened to overwhelm Judaism and the Jews' collective survival. As Joel Abraham List put it in his lecture at the first meeting in Berlin of the group that became the Verein f?r Kultur und Wissen? schaft der Juden in 1819: 'Behind our decision to found a society for Jews seems to have been an apprehensiveness that in the future we, as individuals, will not be able to continue to live as Jews, or at least not in the way we would like to'.8 The Jewish historians of the nineteenth century generally saw as their primary objective the creation of a coherent view of the national past that would serve as an external justification of emancipation and an internal revivi? fication of the spirit of Judaism: their work was to be a weapon in the battle to postpone or prevent the end of Jewish history. In the twentieth century the foremost exponents of an end of Jewish his? tory, at any rate in the Diaspora, were Zionists of the Jerusalem school of 6 Ibid. 449. 7 Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Edinburgh 1885) 548. 8 English tranlation of text in Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz (eds) The Jew in the Modern World (2nd ed., New York 1995) 211. 4</page><page sequence="5">The end of Jewish history? historians. The vocabulary and imagery of death and rebirth is central to their interpretation of history. Jewish history was to be reborn in the Land of Israel. Jewish life in the Diaspora, the Zionists were convinced, was in a state of advanced decay, social, economic and above all cultural-spiritual-moral. Jewish history in the Diaspora either had no end, that is, no purpose, or had served its purpose: either way it must come to an end by means of the liquida? tion of the galut (dispersion). The classic statement of this view is the essay by Yitzhak Baer, Galut (Jewish exile) which he characterizes in the modern period as 'political servitude which must be abolished completely'.9 Actually, galut was a concept that was spiritual rather than geographical. It did not apply only to the Jews of the Diaspora, but also to the so-called 'old YishuvJ the pre-Zionist Jewish community of Palestine, and in particular of Jerusalem. I refer to what, in a vulgarized form, has entered the political vocabulary of modern Israel: the notion of the so-called 'galut mentality'. The early Zionist settlers in Palestine from the 1880s onwards, and particularly the socialist Zionists who arrived in large numbers after 1904, looked down on the 'old Yishutf and all it stood for in their eyes by way of obscurantism, religiosity and squalor. In particular they despised what they saw as the para? sitism of Jerusalem's Jews and their dependence on the halukah (charitable dole). The 'old Yishuv* represented for the Zionists a repellent living death. To the Jews trembling on the verge not so much of a physical as of a spiritual end of history, Zionism claimed to offer new meaning, new hope, new life. The work of the greatest member of the Jerusalem school, indeed the great? est Jewish historian of the last century, is suffused by these themes of social and spiritual catastrophe on the one hand and of regeneration on the other. Indeed, in his very choice of subject for his life's work, the apocalyptic millen arianism of the Sabbatean movement of the seventeenth century that came close to bringing about a veritable end of Jewish history, Gershom Scholem gave expression to some of the deepest impulses in the Zionist understanding of history. For Zionists the State of Israel became, to use Ewald's terminology 'the only saving issue of this whole history, without which it would end in dreary night'. That dreary night, of course, actually arrived. The destruction by the Nazis of the greater part of European Jewry and the cultural deformation by com? munism of much of what remained stopped the heartbeat of Jewish history in its most vital centre. In the Zionist interpretation this end of Jewish history in the Diaspora was predestined (or perhaps we should say retrospectively predestined, since it was not actually foreseen) and it also provided the funda? mental and irrefutable justification of the Zionist enterprise internally as much as externally. 9 Yitzhak F. Baer, Galut (New York 1947) 118. 5</page><page sequence="6">Bernard Wasserstein The end, of course, was also a new beginning. The new Zionist world was called into being to redress the balance of the old. Israeli Jewry's share in world Jewish population grew from 6 per cent in 1948 to about 38 per cent today. It is expected that, if current trends continue, Israel will overtake the United States as the home of the largest Jewish community in the world at some point in the next two decades. Indeed, we are almost within sight of the point, unimaginable a generation ago, at which Israel will hold an absolute majority of Jews in the world. Although these significant milestones may be somewhat retarded as a result of a diminution in Jewish immigration to Israel, they are unlikely to be avoided altogether. This immigration decline, already visible in the past five years or so,10 is itself an index of the success of Zionism's essential project - what is termed in the jargon of the movement 'the ingathering of the exiles'. With the exception of Iran, there are now no countries holding significant Jewish communities in imminent danger of persecution (although Jews in some other countries, notably the half million or fewer remaining in the former Soviet Union, might be regarded as in some degree of social or eco? nomic distress). Zionism as an ideology hardly foresaw such a day, save as a distant dream at the end of history, like the Marxist 4withering-away of the state'. Indeed, it might be argued that a half-conscious sub-text of Zionism is disbelief in the possibility of such a state of affairs and an instinctive impulse to deny it. Hence the frequent tendency, amounting sometimes to a kind of Schaden? freude, among Israelis and Zionists to seize on instances of Jewish discomfiture in the Diaspora, whether it be Black-Jewish tensions in the United States or neo-Nazi activities in Europe, as evidence of deep, ineradicable, as it were geological forces of anti-Semitism that must ultimately threaten Jews every? where in the Diaspora. The very success of the Zionist revolution in creating a new Hebrew speaking society in Palestine gives rise to an acute question. In so far as Zionism aimed to create a new society, even a new Jew, how could it at the same time claim continuity with the past?11 The problem grows ever more pressing for the Jewish State as, with every passing day, it becomes less and less Jewish. This is a matter not of subjective impressions, but, among other things, of demography. The most important factor is the wide gap between the rates of natural increase of Arab and Jewish Israelis: Muslim Arabs (the overwhelming 10 Immigration to Israel in 1999 rose above the average of the previous five years to reach 77,000. But this was still well below the levels attained in the period 1989-94. In 2000 the number dropped to 60,130. 11 For a recent exploration of this subject, see Oz Almog, The Sohra: The Creation of the New Jew (Berkeley 2000). 6</page><page sequence="7">The end of Jewish history? majority of Israel's Arab population) had a rate of natural increase in 1998 of 3.4 per cent whereas the Jewish rate of natural increase was only 1.2 per cent. As a result, even with the huge influx of Jews from the Soviet Union since 1988, the Jewish share of Israel's population has declined from 82 per cent in 1988 to 81 per cent in 2001.12 With the end of mass Jewish immigration the Jewish proportion of the total looks set to decline further significantly and rapidly.13 Of course history proves that simple extrapolation of current trends is no reliable guide to the future. But that does not mean that such trends may safely be ignored - or that they will necessarily disappear. A significant part, probably between one third and a half, of immigrants to Israel in recent years have been non-Jews.14 This proportion is growing from the two largest recent sources of migrants - the CIS and Ethiopia. In addition there has been a major influx of non-Jewish temporary workers from countries such as Malaysia, Romania, Turkey, the Philippines and the coun? tries of west Africa. Numbers are uncertain but estimates suggest that between 200,000 and 400,000 such workers now live in Israel. Some have shown signs of putting down roots, for example by marrying Israelis, and, in spite of governmental efforts to reverse the flow, it seems likely that such non-Arab non-Jews will remain a significant element in the population in the near future. The dramatic growth in recent years in the non-Jewish and non Arab population of Israel is not fully reflected in official statistics since these count only those who are legally resident. Nor do they take account of the thousands of Palestinian Arab workers said to be illegally resident in Israel, particularly in Israeli Arab towns, who are likewise absent from the official statistics. A more realistic estimate, therefore, is that Israel today is barely three-quarters Jewish. That is, of course, Israel within the 'green line' - these figures take no account of the great non-Jewish majority in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Paradoxically, the current tendency in Israel towards so-called 'separation' from the Palestinian Arabs would, if implemented, have a direct and visible consequence of hastening the further dejudaization of the State. The reason is that the only possible replacement for Palestinian Arab workers employed in Israel would be yet more foreign workers imported on temporary contracts. If we add together all these factors - first, the disparity in Jewish and Arab 12 Figures from Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 13 One medium-range estimate suggests that by 2023 Jews will constitute no more than 73 per cent of the population (Amnon Rubinstein, 'The Secular Hourglass', Ha'aretz, 8 May 1998). 14 According to a statement in October 1999 by Mike Rosenberg, director of the Jewish Agency's immigration and absorption department, the proportion of non-Jews among immig? rants from the former USSR had risen from 6 per cent in 1989 to 45 per cent by 1997. The Israeli Minister for Diaspora Jewish affairs, Rabbi Michael Melchior, stated at the same time that more than half of all immigrants from the former Soviet Union in 1998 were non-Jews (Jerusalem Post, 28 October 1999). 7</page><page sequence="8">Bernard Wasserstein birth rates; secondly, the decline in Jewish immigration; and, thirdly, the rise in non-Jewish immigration - a realistic prospect is that the current decline in the Jewish proportion of Israel's population will accelerate, so that within the next generation it may constitute no more than two thirds of the total. At that point, if not before, the question whether Israel can continue to regard itself as a 'Jewish State' will become not merely a debating point but a burning social and political problem. In the eyes of many, that problem exists not at some point in the future but now. Against this background, the idea of 'post-Zionism' has gained currency in Israeli intellectual circles. What exactly it constitutes is difficult to define. The term appears to have been coined in the mid-1980s, although it became a significant element in public discourse only a decade or so later.15 Post Zionism has no canonical texts, no outstanding prophets or ideologues, no clear doctrines. I recently asked several Israeli intellectuals to define for me what it was, explain where it came from, and tell me what they thought of it. Although all had heard of post-Zionism and a few seemed sympathetic to it, none could give me a simple capsule definition. Some see it as an end of ideology tout court, connected perhaps with the rise of a consumerist society. Others link it with relativist, postmodernist concepts. What emerged from my inquiries was a general sense that the old nostrums of Zionist ideology were losing contemporary relevance. Some of my interlocutors saw 'post-Zionism' as a variant of anti-Zionism, but even this group manifested a sense that Israel was moving into uncharted territory, socially, culturally and ideologically. Several of those I consulted referred to the change in historic consciousness arising from the works of the so-called 'new historians' of Israel - Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Dan Pappe and others - who have sought to demystify Israeli history, particularly that of the 1947-56 period, and to strip away some of the rationalizations in which previous, quasi-official historians of Zionism had enveloped the early history of the State. Actually, the connection between the 'new historians' and post-Zionism is questionable. At any rate in the cases of the two leading figures among them, Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, they are neither conceptually nor methodolo? gically radical: they can be more pertinently described as old-fashioned, posit ivistic, narrative political historians; for better or worse, the kinds of question they ask, their handling of evidence and modes of argument are of a tradi? tional kind - traditional, that is, in the professional historical sense. While it is too early yet to assess the impact on Israeli collective self awareness of the recent unrest, there is no doubt that it has been profound - 15 See Laurence J. Silberstein (ed.) The Post-Zionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (London 1999). 8</page><page sequence="9">The end of Jewish history? perhaps more so than at any period since 1973.16 On right and left alike there is a general sense of lost bearings and of ground shifting beneath the feet. If the Jewish State is experiencing a dramatic self-reappraisal, the Diaspora is undergoing a different kind of upheaval. This too has been variously inter? preted. Broadly speaking, sociologists of contemporary Jewry in the Diaspora may be divided into two schools, the 'assimilationist' and the 'transforma? tionist'. The classic presentation of the assimilationist view was that of the French Jewish sociologist Georges Friedmann in his book Fin du peuple juifi, published in 1965.17 Friedmann's argument, in a nutshell, was that the Jews of Israel were becoming 'Hebrew-speaking Gentiles' while those of the Dias? pora were rapidly integrating and assimilating into surrounding Gentile soci? eties. As a consequence the solidarities that had bound Jews together in previ? ous generations were dissolving. The opposing 'transformationist' argument has been represented in recent decades by experts on American Jewry such as the demographer Calvin Gold scheider and the sociologist Steven Cohen. Incidentally, I think it is no coin? cidence that this more, as it were, sanguine outlook is espoused mainly by students of American Jewry, whereas more pessimistic views may be detected among those of European Jewry. The difference in interpretation reflects to a considerable degree what I would term the relative stages of decline of Jewish communities in the two continents. The North American communit? ies, larger, generally richer, more secure, living in denser concentrations, boasting more solid institutions, are assimilating to general society more slowly than those of Europe - but, broadly speaking, they are following the same, apparently inexorable path. In a book based in part on a study of the Jewish community of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1975, Goldscheider argued that the forces of cohesion and continuity were greater than was popularly thought. He concluded that the view that saw 'the response to modernization as threatening, as the road to total assimilation and the end of the Jewish people, is not consistent with the evidence. The Jewish community in America has changed; indeed it has been transformed. But in that process it has emerged as a dynamic source of net? works and resources binding together family, friends and neighbours, ethnic? ally and religiously. As a community, Jews are surviving in America, even as some individuals enter and leave the community.'18 Similarly, in a study of American Jewry published in 1988, Cohen argued that 'Even with the resid? ential dispersal of the population, even with the increase in intermarriage, 16 This lecture was delivered shortly after the outbreak, on 28 September 2000, of the 'al-Aqsa intifada'. 17 Georges Friedmann, Fin du peuple juifi (Paris 1965). 18 Calvin Goldscheider, Jewish Continuity and Change: Emerging Patterns in America (Bloomington 1986) 184. 9</page><page sequence="10">Bernard Wasserstein even with the passage of generations, and even with the parent-to-child decline in ritual practice, the so-called middle was shown to be holding. In terms of residential concentration, social networks (marriage and friendship), ritual practice, and communal affiliation, large numbers of Jews continue to occupy the middle range of these dimensions . . . Increasing integration - especially intermarriage - will probably mean offsetting increases in the out? ward and inward flows of Jews and their born-Gentile spouses. However, integration thus far does not seem to bring about any wholesale, large-scale erosion in Jewish activities. The moderate version of transformationism - the view that Jewish expression may be changing qualitatively but not quantitat? ively - is the one I believe is best supported by the data.'19 Since the publication of Cohen's study in 1988, however, other evidence has painted a different picture. In particular, the birth rate of Jews in the United States has declined well below replacement rate and the compensating flow of Jewish immigration, today mainly from the CIS, Israel and Iran, does not balance the natural decrease. As a result, for the first time since the war, United States Jewry too is set in a mould of demographic decline. American Jewry, it may be argued, is undergoing many of the same processes as Euro? pean - but more slowly. In the case of religious practice, for example, the United States remains a much more religious country than Europe, but there too the secularizing wind is blowing and there too Jews are affected by it. In sum: the American Jewish iceberg is much larger than the European and therefore melts more slowly; but we might say that, at the social level, the process of global warming is also affecting American Jewry. The American Jewish thinker Arthur Hertzberg has encapsulated this view: 'The drift of life in contemporary America is towards free association'.20 Behind the transformationist view often lies a recourse to a 'quality rather than quantity' argument. Objections are often attributed to cultural bias or nostalgia rather than to objectively measurable phenomena. According to this view, what is changing is merely the form of Jewish expression rather than its essence. Indeed, some exponents of this line of argument would deny the reality of any such essence. They would criticize the approach represented by the assimilationist school as 'essentialist' or as a form of 'reification'. Behind these modish terms lies a serious critique, based in the end on the notions that there is no ideal form of the 'Jew' and 'Jewishness' and that 'Judaism' or 'Jewish identity' represent examples of what Marxists used to call 'false consciousness'. In a sense the twin criticisms cancel each other out. If Jewishness were indeed a mere attribution of materiality to a misconceived 19 Steven M. Cohen, American Assimilation or Jewish Revival? (Bloomington 1988) 124-5. 20 Arthur Hertzberg, 'What Future for American Jews?', New York Review of Books, 23 Nov? ember 1989, p. 29. 10</page><page sequence="11">The end of Jewish history? ideology, then sooner or later it would be bound to disappear. If, on the other hand, Jewishness is endlessly redefinable and adjustable, then it faces a future that stretches into infinity. Both of these criticisms cannot be correct. A more realistic view, reinforced by social observation, is that there comes a point in analysing the development of any social organism where change is so extensive, pervasive and persistent as to involve wholesale metamorphosis and the effective disappearance of the original entity. Such, I submit, is the process that Diaspora Jewry has undergone and is undergoing. We may take as an example the phenomenon, cited in a recent lecture by Professor Zvi Gitelman, of 'Christian Jews' in Russia - Jews by nationality who are Christians by religion. They are also, by most reckonings, non-Jews by culture since they generally do not speak a Jewish language, do not have a Jewish education, do not participate in Jewish rites of passage, do not, in fact, have anything Jewish about them save perhaps some memory of Jewish ancestors. Such people are, indeed, counted as Jews by census-takers if they declare themselves as such. They are then counted as Jews by Jewish demo? graphers. They may perhaps be Jews by some halachic or existential reckon? ing. But surely a realistic assessment of such people is that they are in a transitional stage in the exodus from a Jewish identity into some other one.21 We thus face parallel tendencies in Israel and the Diaspora: the dejudaiz ation of both the Jewish State and the Jewish communities in the rest of the world. Does this mean the impending end of Jewish history? If we are indeed approaching the end of Jewish history, at least in the sense of the collective self-understanding of a dissolving community, what implications does this have for Jewish historical writing? Is it in danger of degenerating either into an antiquarianism without internal coherence, broader significance or intellectual substance - the sort of Jewish history that searches for the first Jew in Tunbridge Wells or the Jewish genealogy of this or that public figure? I must confess that sometimes I am haunted by the image of the Jewish historian of the future as a kind of Egyptologist unearthing the mummified remains of a dead and forgotten, meaningless and irrelevant civilization. I believe that we can at least say in this Society that we have overcome the first kind of antiquarianism and that we are not yet in sight of the second. But as the sun slowly sets on the Jewish Diaspora and on the conception of Israel as an all-Jewish State, some changes in Jewish historiography are already apparent. In the first place, Jewish history as a grand national narrat 21 This is not to imply that such movement is necessarily irreversible or one-way. Some 'non Jewish Jews' who have migrated to Israel (and to a lesser extent Diaspora destinations such as Germany) have found it socially convenient to manifest forms of Jewish identification beyond the official classification. II</page><page sequence="12">Bernard Wasserstein ive seems on the road to obsolescence. No contemporary historian has attempted to emulate the grand sweep of the classic histories of Graetz and Dubnow. The most recent attempt to do so, Salo Baron's Social and Religious History of the Jews, ground to a halt after eighteen volumes before it had reached the modern period. The Zionist vision of Jewish history, dominant from the 1940s to the 1970s, seems to have lost its elan. David Vital's recent volume on the Jews in the Oxford History of Modern Europe perhaps represents its last gasp - or, if you wish, its final flower.22 Vital views his subject teleologically: the Nazi genocide is portrayed by Vital as the logical end of Jewish history in Europe - logical because, if I have understood Vital correctly, it was an inevitable outcome of the bedrock of Gentile hostility to a Jewish presence in the continent and the blinkered failure of the majority of Jews themselves to embrace in time the self-understanding and salvation that Zionism alone could offer. Vital's dark vision of modern European Jewry is a reductionist application of the Zionist doctrine of shelilat hagolah ('rejection of exile') - or perhaps one should use the old term favoured by Marxist writers and call its conceptual framework mechanistic. Either way, it is a new form of Heilsgeschichte: the end of Jewish history in Europe is portrayed retrospectively as if it furnished a kind of evidentiary basis for the truth of Zionism. Secondly, I think we can see in Jewish history as it is now practised by professional historians, particularly those of the younger generation in Israel, a revisionist tendency regarding Jewish history in general that bears compar? ison with the revisionism of the new historians of Israel itself. What I think most of my friends and colleagues among them would concede that they lack is the unified theme, the concentrated vision that inspired the previous generation of the Jerusalem school or, in different forms, earlier generations of Jewish historians since the Enlightenment. This is not just a matter of fashion or of declining or changing ideology. It is an almost inevitable reflection of social reality. Let me quote once again something that Isaiah Berlin said in this room thirty years ago; 'What is, and what is not, Jewish history? Who belongs to it, and who does not? ... Is the history of individuals of Jewish origin, or even the Jewish faith, also part and parcel of Jewish history? .... Where, in recent history, are we to draw the line between the history of the Jews as such and the history of the larger societies of which they happen to be members?'23 Such questions are easier to answer in the pre-modern period, but in the period since the Enlighten? ment there are no easy answers for Jewish historians because there are no easy 22 David Vital, A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939 (Oxford 1999). See also my critique in London Review of Books, 13 April 2000. 23 Berlin (see n. 3) 253-4. 12</page><page sequence="13">The end of Jewish history? answers for Jews. If the Jews, in Clermont-Tonnerre's famous formulation in the French National Assembly in 1789, were to be granted everything as individuals but nothing as a nation (by which he meant a community), and if, in spite of all the disasters and backslidings of the past two centuries, we can now say that, to judge from observed social facts, this emancipatory con? tract has essentially been accepted both by the Jews and by their neighbours in the chief remaining centres of Jewish concentration in the Diaspora, then is the study of Jews as a living collectivity still a realistic or intellectually coherent exercise? Without the Ariadne's thread that, in different forms, guided the heilsgesch? ichtlich approach of both Christian and Jewish historians of the Jews over the past two centuries, have we not indeed reached the end of Jewish history? 13</page></plain_text>